Coming into the NCAA Women's Soccer Tournament Sweet Sixteen game against Virginia, the Wake players knew what they had to do: defend at all costs, and hope to get lucky. After weathering a barrage in the first half, the luck went Virginia's way early in the second, and the Deacs surrendered the goal that signaled doom on their hopes of advancement.
The Deacs ended the season with a record of 12-7-2.
Virginia's Alexis Shaffer crossed the ball off the post, and Makenzy Doniak was the wide-open recipient of the ricochet in front of the goal 30 seconds into the second half after goalie Aubrey Bledsoe was properly positioned at the near post. The result was a bit of a fluke, but demonstrative of Virginia's superior play. Doniak had hit the post within 150 seconds into the game, and Virginia completely dominated play in the first half. Wake's defense held strong, and Bledsoe was able to clean up any errors, but the goal was 45 minutes in coming.
Given Wake's futility in attack, the one goal may as well have been ten, but USWNT player Morgan Brian - one of the favorites for ACC and national PoY honors - added a second in the 49th minute off a nifty interchange, popping up at the penalty slot to latch onto a low cross from Shaffer and slot the ball into the far corner. The goal effectively iced the game, and the remaining 40 minutes were largely bereft of drama.
Virginia's players looked faster, quicker, and routinely knocked Wake players off the ball, and the Deacs just looked like a beaten team after the Brian goal. The Deacs managed exactly one shot all game, and it was a desperation one-touch blast from 30 yards by Riley Ridgik from her off foot in the 86th minute that was last seen somewhere near Jupiter.
Now that I've got the dourness of the game sufficiently expressed, I'll add this: this Wake team was a joy to watch all season. Injuries crippled any realistic chance it had of threatening the true top tier teams (UNC, Florida State, and Virginia) in the ACC and nationally, but the players fought hard in every game (including tonight) and deserve any and all applause. The Deacs had already begun the transition to a world without its transcendent senior class by playing without Rachel Nuzzolese for most of the season and Katie Stengel since early October, but now that transition occurs for real.
I don't know what the Wake women's soccer team will look like next season - it will be drastically different in terms of personnel, and if I had my way, would be drastically different in style as well (Tony da Luz should hopefully learn something from the mobility and passing of the Cavaliers tonight - this is the future, and it should be one we're a part of). This year's senior class has been largely responsible from elevating Wake from "perennial NCAA Tournament team" to "legitimate top 10 national title threat" these last four seasons. They have excelled on the field and in the classroom, and they represent everything that Wake Forest athletics should strive to be. I don't know how next year's team will look, but I hope that it makes me as proud to be a Demon Deacon as this year's team has.